Monday, September 1, 2014

Telltale's The Walking Dead - Season 2 Review

Season 2 of Telltale Game's benchmark series The Walking Dead has just come to a close. Does it stand along with season 1, one of the best gaming experiments ever concocted? In a lot of ways, yes. In just as many ways, no. Season 2 was an odd mix of exciting moments and slow build-up, along with some of the shortest episodes in the entire series so far. A lot of the same emotions and characterizations from the previous season worm their way in, but just as easily are overshadowed by new and even more terrible revelations. An odd mix, but one hell of a good one.

(WARNING - This review will spoil some moments from both Season 1 and Season 2 of The Walking Dead Telltale Game. You have been warned...)

Season 2 is what I like to call anti-season 1, and it has everything to do with the new lead, Clementine. After Lee gives up everything to rescue Clem, Clem makes her way back to Omid and Christa. Not to long after, Clem's carelessness gets Omid killed. Several months later, just as Christa is about due to give birth, they get separated by a gang of scavengers, leaving Clem all on her own in this zombie filled world.

Now, if season 1 taught us that every life is worth saving, season 2 hammers in the fact that not all lives can, or should, be saved. It teaches us that children can no longer be children, that they must live up to the responsibility of their new world or risk getting themselves or others killed.

And that's you. An 11 year old surviving because that's all that's left to do.

A lot of the characters you meat along the way mirror the people encountered in the last season, with Clem slowly morphing into a Lee-like figure. Each has their own view of the world, how they live and how others should act. Each is meant to drive the player (and Clem) into creating their own versions of how the end of the world should be handled. You group together out of necessity more than anything, as even Lee had doubts of their group just before it crumbled.

Unfortunately, crumbling is just what happens to Clem's group of survivors as well.

Deaths come often and suddenly. Unpredictability is a staple of the series and Telltale plays these cards while never tipping their hand. Is this guy we just came across a loner? Does he have friends hiding in the surrounding trees? Is he part of a group of bandits, or just trying to survive? These questions come up often, and you aren't given much thinking time until you have to make a choice about what to do about them. Just like in real life, actions usually come first while thinking about what you just did can come later.

Choices are Telltales bread and butter, but unfortunately not a whole lot of what you did in season 1 comes back to haunt you in season 2 (with a few cool exceptions). However, season 2 does carry with it some of the most gut-wrenching choices I've had to make in the game so far. Not only that, but they seem to matter more as well.

Season 1 ended practically the same for everyone. The same cannot be said about season 2. There are three vastly different outcomes to how season 2 closes out, and it has me more than a little excited for the eventual season 3. While I won't go into too much detail, I will say the ending has a lot to do with episode 5 of season 1. Not literally, but ideologically. It's a struggle of two worlds; fighting for the greater good with all your power, or survival, sometimes alone and sometimes with someone watching your back.

Nearly everything Lee teaches Clem sticks in her mind while she walks the path of surviving, as well it should. There's a lot of bad in this world, and you've got to hold on to the good while you still can.

Technically speaking, season 2 is light years ahead of season 1. S1 suffered from slowdown, frame stuttering, save corruption and countless bugs. Season 2 is built of Telltales redesigned engine first implemented in The Wolf Among Us, and it performs beautifully. Load times are much improved, pop-in is infrequent and nearly all the previous games bugs and engine issues have been ironed out.

The sound design also steps up big time this go around. The audio is crisper and cleaner when it comes to sound effects, zombies, guns, chops and blood gushes. The new voice actors brought to the series do a fantastic job making us relate to the characters they play. Melissa Hutchison is the perfect Clem, and give a performance to rival that of season 1.

A few other voices from season 1 makes a return, but revealing them would lean towards heavy spoiler territory.

As I said at the beginning of the review, Season 2 is very heavily anti-season 1. What I mean by that is you start to question if the choices made in the first game even mattered, considering most of them don't come into play at a later point. As Clem, you start to question Lee's practices, realizing that he didn't have all the answers. Or that maybe he knew better than her that this new world will do whatever it takes to destroy what little good is left in it.

Season 2 teaches us that trust is a hard thing to come by, loyalty has its limits, friendship isn't always magic, and there's no such thing as as a child anymore.

Only a survivor that must get stronger every day